Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Boring, Unnerving, and Ultimately Enchanted Evening

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Boring, Unnerving, and Ultimately Enchanted Evening

Article excerpt

Three young men at the next table kept trying to talk to me. But I, a woman traveling on my own in Greece, had been warned: Don't make eye contact with strangers - especially in the Plaka, hold onto your handbag, and stay in well-lighted areas at night. For my first trip to Athens, more-experienced friends had been generous with sensible advice.

The young men persisted. The blond - a real storybook Apollo - was their spokesman. He was the one who spoke English, anyway.

"You are English maybe? American? Yes? We are so nice chaps. You talk English with us, please?"

He was so pretty, I was almost tempted. Instead, pretending not to notice them, I buried my nose in a guidebook.

Earlier, after dumping my bags in a modest hotel, I had hit the tourist trail: the Acropolis and the Agora, a bit of shopping. This was a flying visit, one day between the end of an island vacation and the 3 a.m. departure of a cheap charter flight. I planned to sightsee, but most places close during lunchtime till late afternoon. That was how I found myself eating in a taverna on the edge of the Plaka, an enclave of 19th-century island architecture in the middle of Athens.

The young men were persistent. They laughed and waved to get my attention. Without acknowledging them directly, I discovered they were firemen. Athens is a tinderbox in the dry summer. The small van parked at the curb was a fire truck in which the three men patrolled, looking for small rubbish fires.

"You like music?" asked Apollo. "Greek music? You like that?"

"Yes," I finally replied.

"Bouzouki music? You know? You like bouzouki?"

"Mmm, I guess so."

"You come with us later. We play for food, you know. Where you stay? We take you. Eat. Listen to music. Don't say no. You come. Say yes. You eat. You listen. We play."

There was no stopping them or refusing them. To extricate myself, I agreed that if I was in at 10 p.m., when they got off work, and if I had nothing else to do, I might join them. I never really thought I would.

Ten p.m. Footsore and bored, trapped in a grim hotel room, I had hours to kill before my flight. I considered three hours on a lumpy bed, staring at peeling, yellowed wallpaper, and hoped the firemen wouldn't show so I could be sensible. But they did show, and by then my caution had been eroded by the dripping faucet.

Outside, Apollo took charge. In a flurry of commands, a taxi was summoned, all my bags were loaded into it, and one of the threesome climbed in. Another hopped on one of two motorcycles. Before I could climb in the taxi, Apollo slammed the door. "You ride with me," he said. The taxi bore all my possessions - passport, tickets, currency - off into the Athens traffic.

Motorcycles scare me. Now, as we left the bright heart of Athens, I had more to worry about. I had no identification and no money. …

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